There are moments when all of us have tried too hard, one way or another. We have a particular goal, and we’re striving towards it. Despite the fact that our writing isn’t flowing naturally, we keep on, fighting the current and our own writing tendencies (and sometimes, our own characters).
But whenever this happens, we weaken the story by introducing extraneous material, like dross in gold.
So here’s a few forms “Trying Too Hard” can take.
Prose. We’ve all read lines like “the sun broke the edge of the horizon, shattering the still night into morning.” It gives a quick snapshot of the location of the action, sidestepping paragraphs of prose. And sometimes, a short, memorable description like this can work really well, setting up the mood for whatever follows.
However, if the narrator isn’t the sort who’d notice these kinds of things, or isn’t the type to think about them in a lyrical, literary way, then we’re probably trying too hard to sound “artistic.” The best prose is a natural kind that flows, from the narrator or characters to us. We shouldn’t have to consult a dictionary to make it happen.
Side Characters. Frequently, this is where we try to hitch our story onto the latest literary fad. We add gay secondary characters, who never seem to act any differently than the other characters (as in, they don’t seem drawn to the same sex, they never react romantically towards the same sex, and they hardly interact with their partner in any way beyond friendship). Or we add a dash of ethnic diversity by having characters with darker skin–and leave it at that, never hinting at how this affects their lives or how their culture shapes how they see things.
Romances and Religion. A lot of contrived fiction falls into this category, and this can happen, even if “religion” means that the character is devoted to saving the planet, changing humanity’s carbon output, or promoting equality for all. If we’re putting words in a character’s mouth or viewpoints in their head that they wouldn’t naturally say or think, we’re trying way too hard.
Also, if we’re putting the wrong people together–forcing our characters to make wise romantic choices, even though we know they’d be drawn to the wrong ones–we’re still contriving the story, and we’re doing an injustice to the characters. It’s their story, after all; their one chance to live. We need to let them be themselves…not mini-me’s on paper.
What about you? Have you encountered an example of an author “trying too hard”? Or maybe, is there a type you’ve been guilty of yourself? (gasp!) 🙂
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by Penywise, Creative Commons